Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 Days 'Til Christmas: Advent Eye Candy from the Art World to Set the Mood

"Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem," by James Tissot, 1886-1894
Notice that I did not say "five SHOPPING days" until Christmas.  The shopping is finished, the homework and projects and tests and classroom parties are finished.  The decorating is finished, and the cookies have been baked.  Now all that's left to do is "watch and wait, which is what Advent is really all about.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite depictions of the Christmas story in religious art.  It's interesting to me how differently artists imagine and interpret the Bible narrative, filling in the blanks and injecting much of their own culture and perspective into their portrayals.  My favorite is "Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem" by French artist James Tissot.  I can almost hear the innkeeper calling down the stairs, "There's no room in the inn!"  Joseph seems frantic, Mary looks nervous, and Tissot achieves a fairly realistic background of what Bethlehem might actually have looked like two thousand years ago.  The depth and perspective in this painting really draws me into the scene and into the story.

"Adoration of the Shepherds," by Angelo Bronzino, c. 1540
Next, we have the "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Angelo Bronzino, a 16th century artist from Florence.  I really love the idyllic, pastoral landscape in the background of this painting and the rich jewel tones of the garments -- even though I know it's preposterous.  Prior to the invention of synthetic fabric dyes in the 19th century, vivid colored textiles could only be achieved through laborious processes requiring thousands of tiny bugs, mollusks, or plant materials, and vibrant fabrics like these would have only been available to the wealthy and powerful.  Actually, the artist probably chose these colors for symbolic reasons rather than attempting to imagine what the holy family was actually wearing when Christ was born.

Which brings me to the last painting I'll share tonight (this morning?  How did it get so late?!):

"The Star of Bethlehem," by Edward Burne-Jones, Watercolor, 1890

Burne-Jones, a Pre-Rafaelite Aesthetic artist, has reinvisioned the nativity in an idealized medieval European forest.  The magi who have come to pay their respects to the Christ child are bizarrely dressed in what appears to be irridescent silk dupioni and an exquisite jacquard tablecloth -- I know this is ridiculous, but I love how this artist depicted these unlikely fabrics so skillfully, with such a high level of detail and realism.   They called it the "Aesthetic Movement" for a reason -- this is absolutely gorgeous.  Can you believe this was done in watercolor? 

Well, I set out to write a nice post about Advent and focusing on the "reason for the season," but (typically) I ended up right back where I always do, obsessing about FABRIC!  Ugh! 

1 comment:

Lane said...

Thank you! The paintings really take my breath away. Lane